Captain Awkward and the Awkward Army,
I recently accepted a position in a line of work that is brand new for me, exciting, mentally stimulating, and will enable me to finally be financially stable. This is all great.
Except for one co-worker, a trainee who was hired on at the same time as me and is in the same stage of training.
This co-worker has a bad habit of openly watching me and waiting for me to screw something up. Then she loves to make a big deal about it and “correct” my errors. Laughs loudly and points it out to the senior techs.
I realize that this is not a big deal. But, I have some issues with being watched. Growing up, my mom threatened my siblings and me with hiding cameras in the house to make sure we weren’t “sinning” or doing anything wrong while both parents were gone (we were latchkey kids, and I was the authority on site, as oldest kid). She was just off enough that we believed her. It created an environment of deep suspicion and paranoia growing up.
I was recently diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder as well. So being watched with the obvious intent to catch me screwing up + being around strange people in general= a perpetually nervous me. I am very competent and have historically received high reviews on my work… as long as I wasn’t being micro-managed or stared at.
Obviously I don’t want the anxiety she gives me to translate into actual poor performance. I really enjoy this job. It involves animals, who are naturally more receptive to hyper-aroused states in their human handlers. I don’t want my anxiety translating into anxiety for them.
I’m working on the anxiety and self esteem issues with my therapist, as well as dealing with the weird shit left over from my past.
What I need help with is a script or scripts for dealing with this co-worker. Polite requests to allow my trainer to train me and correct any errors have been met with complete brush-offs and stories of what an amazing manager/student/daughter/sister she is, which clearly makes her more qualified to police me.
Your history at home sounds godawful (YOUR MOM, HOLY SHIT) and nerve-wracking and you are handling it like a boss by seeking the help you need and being aware when outside factors are intersecting with that old history. The other tech’s behavior is bad enough on its own – it’s not some flaw in you that is making you have an outsized reaction.
I feel comfortable saying: This person is an asshole who is acting like your enemy. She has somehow sussed out a tender spot and is digging her claws into it for all she’s worth to make her feel better about herself. If you’re looking for permission to feel angry and annoyed at her, you’ve got it.
You already used Script #1: “Please let the trainer handle correcting me” so it’s time for Script #2: “I’m sure you are the greatest. It’s not a competition and you are not my mentor, so give me some space,” and Script #3: “Knock it off. It’s annoying and uncalled for.”
It’s the trainer’s job to teach both the skills and the expectations for how to behave at the job. Has the trainer noticed any of her behavior? Because if being more direct/less polite don’t work, escalate it.
Script #4: “Trainer, Coworker likes to stare at me when I’m doing a procedure and then call out my errors to the senior techs. It’s making me very uncomfortable and I feel like I’m more prone to errors when she’s so focused on me, which is bad for the animals. I’ve asked her to stop directly, and she hasn’t, so I am at the point where I’d like to start documenting it with management. The behavior feels very hostile on her part and I’d like it to stop, immediately.”
It’s extremely possible the Trainer will say, “You’re doing great. Just ignore her.”
That sounds unhelpful in the extreme, but one thing it really means is, “I know the problem is not you. Keep doing what you are doing and I’ll tell you if you screw up.”
Advanced Move: Consider also, when she’s about to do her thing, stopping what you’re doing and waiting until she moves away. Put your tools down, and quietly wait. If she’s the kind of uncomfortable-with-silence person I think she is, she’ll notice that you’ve stopped and ask you what you’re waiting for. You can answer, “For you, to give me some space like I asked” or you can stay silent and let it get more and more awkward until she says something rude and/or storms off (this is a win, even if what she says is really hostile). This will only work if you think you can actually outwait her.
If she doesn’t learn, continue telling annoying her, “A little space, please?” and when she tells the senior techs about your doings, consider throwing out “My sandwich today is tuna salad if you’re keeping notes on that, too.”
Continue unpacking mental health & childhood stuff with your therapist. Continue being great at your job that you enjoy.
Some people just need to be TOLD. She is one of them. It’s not you. May your training end soon and may management have the wisdom to separate you.